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In re Spradley

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 7, 2019

In Re GIANNI N. SPRADLEY, Debtor
v.
GIANNI N. SPRADLEY, Appellee. THE OAKS AT NORTH BRUNSWICK CONDO ASSOC. INC., Appellant,

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter comes before the Court on appeal from the Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey ("Bankruptcy Court"). Appellant-Creditor, the Oaks at North Brunswick Condominium Association, Inc. ("Oaks" or "Appellant"), appeals from the Bankruptcy Court's December 26, 2017 Order to strip down Oaks' claim from the Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan of Appellee-debtor Gianni Spradley ("Appellee" or "Spradley"). For the reasons set forth below, the case shall be remanded back to the Bankruptcy Court for additional fact finding to certify Oaks fulfilled all the necessary conditions to perfect its lien to an elevated priority over the first mortgage.

         Factual History

         The factual history and finer details of this dispute were set forth before the Bankruptcy Court. This Court therefore reiterates only the facts relevant to the present appeal.

         Oaks was established pursuant to the Master Deed and Declaration of Restrictive and Protective Covenants, Easements, Charges, and Liens for the Oaks at North Brunswick, A Condominium ("Master Deed") and the By-Laws for the Oaks at North Brunswick Condominium Association, Inc. ("By-Laws") (collectively as "the Governing Documents"). (Appellant Brief at 2-3, ECF No. 4). The Governing Documents were dated November 13, 1980 and recorded in the Office of the Middlesex County Clerk on November 13, 1980. Id. at 3.

         Spradley owns and resides in a unit within Oaks. Id. By accepting title to the property, Spradley joined Oaks' Association and agreed to be bound by the Governing Documents while holding title to the property. Id.

         Pursuant to its Governing Documents, as well as New Jersey law, Oaks is responsible for clearing snow, maintaining streetlights, disposing of garbage, and other assorted maintenance duties associated with the common grounds its members share. Id. at 15. To fund these services, Oaks collects a monthly maintenance charge from each member of the Association, as provided in the Governing Documents. (Appellant Appendix at 55, ECF No. 4-1). The Governing Documents further state that any unpaid monthly maintenance charge may constitute a lien if filed with the County Clerk. More precisely, it states:

[A] 11 charges, expenses and assessments chargeable to any unit shall constitute a lien against said unit in favor of [the Oaks], which lien shall be prior to all other liens except: (1) assessments, liens and charges for taxes past due and unpaid on the unit, and (2) bona fide mortgage instruments, duly recorded, and (3) the [Oaks]'s lien shall be recorded in the Clerk's Office of Middlesex County pursuant to the Condominium Act. The charges and expenses represented in the usual monthly maintenance charge shall become effective as a lien against each unit on the first day of each month; additional or added assessments, charges and expenses, if any, chargeable to units and not covered by the usual monthly maintenance charge, shall become effective as a lien against each unit as of the date when the expense or charge giving rise to such additional or added assessment was incurred by the [Oaks]In addition, such charges and expenses shall bear interest from the due date as set by the [Oaks] at such rate not exceeding the legal interest rate as may be established by the [Oaks] or, if no rate is established, at the legal rate.

Id. at 55-56.

         Due to failure to pay monthly maintenance charges, Spradley was referred to collections on or around October of 2008. (Appellant Reply Brief at 8, ECF No. 6). The Oaks subsequently recorded four liens totaling $33, 211.62 against Spradley's property: January 21, 2009, August 14, 2013, November 18, 2014, and May 28, 2015. (Appellant's Appendix at 13, 30-43, ECF No. 4-1). Additionally, a foreclosure complaint was filed on July 19, 2012 by Greentree Servicing against Spradley. Id. at 26.

         On March 28, 2017, Spradley filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, valuing his unit at $169, 000 and subject to a first mortgage of $172, 000. (Appellee's Brief, ECF No. 5, at 2). In addition to the liens filed, the Oaks submitted an unsecured claim of $7, 509.59 against the property. (Appellee Brief at 3 n.4).

         II.

         In New Jersey, liens held by condominium associations for unpaid maintenance fees are given limited priority over previously recorded mortgages by the New Jersey Condominium Act ("the Condominium Act"). See N.J. Stat. Ann. § 46:8B-21. Specifically, such maintenance liens may be granted limited priority over the first mortgage in an amount that equals six (6) months of maintenance fees so long as certain conditions are met. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 46:8B-21(b).

         Spradley's proposed Chapter 13 plan included a Motion to Cram-Down the Oaks' maintenance lien of $33, 211.62 by bifurcating the lien into a secured lien of $1, 920 (six (6) months of the maintenance ...


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